Don’t Cry Over Spilled Silk Soy Milk


Ed Note: this post has been modified since it was first published

Whole Foods Market recently dropped Silk soy milk from many of its stores due to Silk’s shift away from primarily sourcing organic soybeans.   Silk continues to have an organic line, just not exclusively organic.  It recently added a “natural” line.  Did Whole Foods go too far in pulling Silk or was Whole Foods acting in their customers best interests?  Why did Silk revert to non-organic soy beans? Can Silk survive in the marketplace after being pulled from a nationwide grocer?

Ceasing to carry Silk soy milk is consistent with Whole Foods’ values. Whole Foods tag line reads, “selling the highest quality natural and organic products.”  Furthermore, the company has taken actions to stand behind their motto of natural and organic.

In 2009, Whole Foods became a certified organic grocer.  Earlier this year, it asked personal care product suppliers to prove their organic claims.  And most recently, Whole Foods started color coding its fish, delineating responsibly sourced versus depleted fish supplies.  Whole Foods actions meets its words.  Its customers rely on Whole Foods to provide quality, and the company continually works towards that goal.

Silk’s shift away from organic soy beans is quite shocking at first.  It appeared to be one of those brands you could trust.  However, in order to understand Silk’s predicament, we need to examine the brands ownership structure and each company’s values.  Silk is produced by WhiteWave Foods, a subsidiary of Dean Foods.

WhiteWave’s mission is “to become earth’s favorite food company,” implying earth friendly and sustainable sourcing.  Furthermore, on WhiteWave’s FAQ, their position on organic farming reads: “We believe that a corporation is most successful when it conducts business with an eye toward the greater good of society. Support for organic agriculture and small family farms is a key element of our responsible livelihood commitment.”  But, if organic agriculture is a “key element” why did WhiteWave drop the use of organic soy beans in Silk?  Perhaps peering into its parent company, Dean Foods, will provide insight.

Dean Foods has been around since 1925, and like Whole Foods, is a component of the S&P 500.  If we examine what motivates Dean Foods, the company website states, “We’re in the growth business.”  It appears the companies main focus is growth and ever increasing market share, rather than earth friendly foods like WhiteWave, or quality products like Whole Foods.

Dean Foods primary business revolved around dairy products.  So, it is no surprise that Dean Foods acquired Silk via WhiteWave as a dairy/milk alternative, in 2002.  This is consistent with its dedicated mission for growth.  However, could the action of not being exclusive to organic soybeans put a dent in Silk’s 70% soy milk marketshare?  Could other grocers or restaurants follow suit by not carrying the Silk product?

The Silk brand is in a quandary.  WhiteWave appears well versed in the language and perhaps even the culture of sustainability.  Yet, its parent company Dean Foods, appears willing to put growth ahead of any other aspect of the company.  Perhaps Whole Foods halting Silk will hint to WhiteWave and ultimately to Dean Foods that organics are becoming more and more relevant and desirable.  If Silk can stand true to WhiteWaves values, it may be able to redeem itself in the marketplace.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

7 responses

  1. Hey Jonathan,

    This is Jarod, from WhiteWave. Just want to add a few quick comments. To be clear, Silk has not been kicked out of Whole Foods. They have limited our distribution in a few regions, but there are still a large number of stores carrying our products.

    And while we are now offering the Natural, Non-GMO soymilk options, we are still the leading organic provider as well, selling three times as much organic soymilk than all of our competitors combined.

    I’d encourage you and your readers to check out our blog for some more details around this topic, and our decision to add the Natural offerings. –

    Thanks for the post.


    1. Jarod: Thanks for the comment and the clarification.

      Everyone: I would urge encourage readers as well to check out the blog. Curious to hear the thoughts of what folks think of the Whole Foods action in some stores and WhiteWaves action to provide non-organic yet non-GMO soymilk options alongside their organice line?

  2. There are so many brands out there in the market. I’m going to go with one that uses ORGANIC soybeans. Silk’s “Natural, non- GMO option” seems like a form of trickery to the average consumer.

  3. I must admit that I was surprised when the labels changed to ‘all natural’ and started to question the brand. But I still purchased Silk.
    Being from Boulder, knowing the founders and many of the original employees, it didn’t come as too much of a surprise that Dean forced their agenda of ‘growth at any cost’ onto the WhiteWave brand.
    Nonetheless, I continued to be a loyal purchaser of Silk.
    Of late, my local Whole Foods has been slowly and systematically removing Silk products. This was very frustrating since I had to go to a conventional grocery store to get Silk.
    Then I started wondering why Whole Foods would remove a successful brand from the shelves.
    This caused me to do some research. The Dean Foods agenda is ruining a brand that consumers could trust. I’m sure the founders are disappointed to see their vision taken in such a direction.
    On a personal level, I feel betrayed by a brand that I trusted. On a business level, I understand wanting to grow business and cut costs in places that ‘seem’ to make no difference.
    As of today, I won’t be purchasing Silk anymore.
    The end of an almost 20 year relationship.

  4. I was very disappointed in White Wave. Our child was on Silk Organic Regular Soy milk because of a cow’s milk protein allergy. She loved her silk milk and at some point stopped liking the taste. She said it had a “funny taste”, we then noticed the taste difference too. We called the company several times and we did not receive a response. Finally, we realized that the label no longer said organic. That was late last year. By that point we had disposed of several cartons because of poor taste. We once again contacted the company via email, and expressed our dissapointment in the change in the milk from organic and the concerns regarding the taste. We finally received an email that stated they would look into it and send us coupons to purchase new products. We never received the coupons or a final answer. We found it extremely difficult to find the organic product in our area and realized from the Cornucopia Institute that White Wave had changed the milk without changing UPC barcodes and prices. By that point my child stopped drinking Silk milk and we are now looking for an alternative truly organic company which hopefully would be more forthcoming on their product. Kudos to Whole Foods for the move!

  5. I used to regularly purchase Silk Original Light at Whole Foods. I am glad that Whole Foods dropped Silk from the refrigerated section. Silk has changed the formula for it’s Light Original Milk. The new version taste very vanilla-ish. I think because it has Stevia as a sweetener to save on calories. I will no longer purchase Silk or it’s products. Thank you Whole Foods.

  6. What concerns me about Silk is why it has allowed a fraudulent $2 off 1 half gallon coupon to circulate on eBay for over 3 years. Silk was made aware of the problem over 3 years ago yet has done nothing to stop the repeated circulation of the coupon (sellers with “good” printers just keep printing off copies). I believe because of this coupon Silk has had to dish out many reimbursements to grocers and because of the cost now have to cut back in the quality of the product. When I called Silk customer service 3 years ago to question the coupon, which looks suspicious with no expiration date, I was told no that it no longer was a legit coupon. I was told that at one time it had been

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